Sholeh Zard

January 20, 2015



Sunny Buttery Saffron Rice Pudding

Rice pudding is the chicken soup of desserts. Ultimate comfort food, it's an international dish that changes its style as it travels the world.

Once again perusing my stack of Time-Life books I came upon another recipe I couldn’t resist: sholeh-zard, or Persian saffron rice pudding. A goldenrod smear on the page suggests I once made this, but I have no memory of it.

Intrigued by the saffron – and the fact that this rice pudding contains no milk – I decided to try it. Unlike the two previous recipes I’ve written about here, this one was so sweet and so strongly redolent of rose water that I made a few serious modifications. Trolling around on the internet I found that sholeh-zard is traditionally incredibly sweet; one recipe I found called for three cups of sugar to one cup of rice. And the classic version is so strongly perfumed with rosewater that some recipes call for as much as a cup. But I've made this to my own taste, so it's less sweet and less perfumed.

It is also, in my opinion, very delicious.


Serves 12 

2 quarts water

1 cup basmati or Iranian rice, rinsed and soaked

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

8 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 1/2 teaspoons saffron threads, pulverized with a mortar and pestle or the back of a spoon, and dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1-3 tablespoons rose water

6 tablespoons slivered blanched almonds

4 tablespoons slivered or finely chopped unsalted pistachios

1 teaspoon cinnamon (garnish)

In a heavy 4-5 quart saucepan, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Pour in the rice and salt and stir. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible point and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. The rice will still be quite watery. Stir in the sugar, then add the butter and the saffron mixture and continue stirring over low heat until the sugar has dissolved, the butter has melted, and the rice is bright yellow. Stir in the slivered almonds, and 1 tablespoon of the pistachios and, stirring occasionally, cook for 30 minutes longer until the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape almost solidly in the spoon. 

Stir in the rose water according to taste. Ladle into a bowl or several small ramekins. Let cool at room temperature, and then refrigerate for at least two hours. Traditionally, this pudding is decorated with lines of cinnamon and nuts laid out in your own personal design.

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  • Madisontime says:

    Sounds yum! Which Time Life cookbook is this from? I love those books! A veritable time capsule of 1960’s gournet writing style!

  • Ruth Reichl says:

    This is from the Cooking of the MIddle East. A revelation to me, when I first read it….

  • alexis says:

    This sounds delightful. I think I have everything but the saffron. Do you recommend a particular brand?
    I have plenty of rosewater and unsalted pistachios, as I like to soak and blend pistachios to make pistachio milk and mix that with honey, matcha green tea powder and rosewater for an afternoon treat.

  • Ruth Reichl says:

    Hi Alexis,
    I don’t have a specific brand of saffron. The truth is that I always buy mountains of it when I go to Spain – it’s so much cheaper there – and use that. I’m just about to run out, but happily I’m heading to Bilbao on March 1st for the Parabere conference, so I’ll have a chance to buy more.
    Sorry not to be more helpful here. Anyone have a brand they like?

  • alexis says:

    I guess that means I’ll just have to plan a trip to Spain! Have fun in Bilbao!


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